Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: VIS Entertainment
Release Date: June 17, 2003
Hollywood director Sam Rami has received a good amount of fanfare recently, with the praise received from the movie Spiderman and the buzz surrounding the upcoming Spiderman 2. However, many people do not know of his earlier works, some of which were the movie Evil Dead and its two sequels. The Evil Dead movie series encompassed all that comes to mind when you think of any B-movie, with bad special effects, an unstable plot, and a lack of any real star power. The one thing that made the movies stand out and gain a cult following was the character Ash, portrayed by Bruce Campbell. In each of the movies Ash was the strong, macho hero but he definitely wasn’t pleased about it, dealing out brash remarks just as much as he dealt out the punishment to the deadites, zombie-like monstrosities that were portrayed in a more comic light than horrifically. The first Evil Dead game, Hail to the King, really missed the mark to many Evil Dead fans and gamers have had to continue to wait for a decent representation of Sam Rami’s works. Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick really tries to fill that void and succeeds to some extent, but it’s flaws and quirks do nothing but damage the gameplay when compared to any other title.
This time around, the story begins with Ash downing shots in a small, uneventful bar in Dearborn, the same city where the deadites have appeared in the past. Years ago, a slightly crazed professor unearthed the Necronomicon, a book of the occult filled with dark incantations and magical abilities. The books power obsessed the professor, who feverishly worked in a small cabin to study it. One night after chanting a bit of the book the professor disappeared, and his work continued to taint the town of Dearborn with strange happenings, all of which Ash has had to combat in order to keep his town safe. As Ash is telling his story to the bartender the television in the bar is tuned to a local TV show, on which a recording of the professors chanting is played on air. Lightning fills the air, a vortex forms in the sky, and before Ash can blink the town of Dearborn is filled with deadites. After Ash blasts the now deadite bartender with his trusty shotgun, he ventures out to once again combat the deadites and send them back to whatever hellhole they came from. As Ash puts it, “Once you’ve unloaded both barrels into your favorite bartender, you can pretty much guess happy hour is over”.
It is that exact point that the game is simultaneously semi-faithful to the movies and mostly-unfaithful to nearly every and all gaming standard set forth in the last five years. On the former, the deadites have their characteristic Thriller-esque walk, notably (and memorably) bad voice acting, and even say “I will swallow your soul” just like nearly every other Evil Dead incarnation. As Ash fires his boomstick backwards over his shoulder he’ll deliver barbed remarks to his fallen foes, and of course he can mount and wield a chainsaw on his right arm to cut a swath through deadite bone and flesh. On the latter, the game seems bland and uninspired for the duration despite the relatively rich material available to draw from. Most of the game consists of “Get item A to perform action B”, such as unlocking a door, which amounts to lots and lots of simply walking around to collect items. To compound the misery, there is absolutely no map to be found to help you navigate the streets of Dearborn, which only adds to the frustration of performing the delivery-boy tasks. To top it all off, the game has save tokens. Even with the versatile power of the Xbox and its large space set aside specifically for saved games, Fistful of Boomstick forces you into saving only when you have a save token. Granted save tokens can be plentiful if one keeps an eye out for them but there is no excuse for a game to take a step backward in such a fashion.
Controlling Ash as he travels among the streets and alleys can prove a bit cumbersome. The left stick controls Ash and the right stick pans the view, while there are buttons for attacking with your left hand weapon (Your shotgun, pistols, dynamite, a shovel), your right hand weapon (Your chainsaw), block, talk, switching weapons, casting magic spells, and targeting. The cumbersome part lies not in its layout, but in its implementation. Targeting enemies works fine against one enemy, or two enemies that are far apart, but since there is no way to switch what you are targeting with any reliability the player often targets the wrong foe in the heat of combat, such as one far away while another is breathing down Ash’s neck. The magic system is performed by pulling the trigger and pressing a combination of buttons, which is extremely hard to use in battle compounded by the fact if you screw a spell up you are left vulnerable to enemy attack. The weapon controls perform quite well but the combos you can perform with them make up a very shallow pool, making combo get very repetitive very quickly.
The graphics in the game could use a lot more love and polish in nearly every area conceivable. The town of Dearborn is an uninspired mash of mazelike streets and rows upon rows of shops and houses that you cannot enter. The textures that decorate the areas are decent in their own right but are marred by overuse in some areas. Even more repetitive is the enemies themselves, expect to find yourself fighting the same handful of enemies over, and over, and over, performing the same attacks over, and over, and over. Like the movies, the only vibrant bit of it all is Ash, who not only looks the part but also moves just like he did in the movies.
Fistful of Boomsticks audio department suffers from the same degree of repetition. The moody music swells and subsides when walking around and engaging in combat, but it also plays over and over. Even the sound effects suffer the same fate, the rip-roar of a chainsaw and the loud boom of a shotgun only pleases the ear the first hundred times you hear the exact same sound over and over again. Once again, Ash is the shining light in the flood of darkness. All of Ash’s voicework is voiced by Bruce Campbell, and is done so just like fans of the movies would expect.
All in all, if Fistful of Boomstick didn’t have Bruce Campbell himself doing the voice work or didn’t carry the Evil Dead license it wouldn’t even be worthy of a first look, let alone a second. Even as it stands, Fistful of Boomstick is an uninspired, repetitive game that can only really appeal to fans of the Evil Dead movies still looking for their video game fix. Even the most hardcore of fans will be put off by the game’s glaring flaws, and the casual gamer probably will lose interest in the game in a matter of a couple hours, if not less.